Sunday, March 22, 2009

An Open Letter To Anderson Cooper 360: The News Cycle Kidnapped Your Show And Is Holding It Hostage In The Media Bubble

Hey there, 360. It's me, Eliza. That blogger that talks about you on the Internets. Lately I've noticed you've been having some trouble. Things aren't going so hot ratings-wise, are they? Just last week there were at least two nights when you were beaten in the demo by Olbermann's repeat. Losing to Greta is one thing, but an MSNBC repeat? Ouch!

A few days ago I blogged that your broadcast had gone from 'quirky and hip' to 'one of the same' and now even sometimes flirts with 'part of the problem.' I've been musing about that lately and thought maybe I'd do some explaining. First of all, I don't want to imply that you've always been some sort of perfect show beacon of cable news, radiating light and truth, and then suddenly went bad. Um, no. Non stop Anna Nicole Smith. O.J. overload. A whole show on Paris Hilton getting out of the clink. Oh, you've had your shame-faced moments to be sure. But you were different. You were better than most. You were interesting and informative.

I've been a loyal viewer for going on four years now. I was with you through Katrina, Sago, a month in the Middle East in 2006, a zillion other field trips, two major get the idea. If you were reporting, I was watching. Heck, I can even remember back when Rick Sanchez was one of your correspondents and you used to send him to do stupidly hilarious things, which both amused me and made me ponder whether or not you might be trying to kill him. Good times.

I used to jokingly refer to you as "my friend with ADD." Man, those days I never knew what to expect from you. Would you kick it off up top with indepth news about Iraq or the latest chaos in the life of Britney Spears? Damned if I knew. It was like watching several shows in one. But, BUT somewhere along the line you took your Ritalin and wow, improvement! I have actual confidence now that when I turn on your show, you will be leading with something relatively important. You even made a special segment to drop all that crime junk. You made a blogger proud.

I guess that's why it pains me to see how much you've lost your way. Where did your voice go, 360? Now the show I watch looks like all the others, and I don't like all the others. That's why I watched you in the first place. You've been sucked into the media bubble and I'm not sure you even know you're in there. Before I get into specifics, I think there's a couple fundamental questions you need to ask yourself: does immediacy trump everything, and are you a slave to the news cycle?

For instance, it always flummoxes me when I hear reporters lament about how little coverage the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are getting. They're the ones that are in a position to do something about that! I fully realize that there are majorly important things going on in this country right now that are a part of the daily news cycle, but for the life of me, I don't understand why that seems to be all you can cover. Why do you have to wait for a news maker to mention, say, Afghanistan, before you can do a story on that conflict? I can only speak for myself on this, but it was infuriating that day when Drudge outed Prince Harry's location and suddenly the news media was again interested in the forgotten war.

Can we agree that this kind of stuff is absolutely shameful? Because I have to say, when I hear Anderson Cooper talk about our brave men and women and how he emails their parents and whatnot, well, it all rings a bit hollow. This is sad because I do believe that he cares--that you all care. It's just that sometimes your rhetoric doesn't match your coverage. Where are the regular war updates? Do you realize you barely touched on the Status of Forces Agreement at all? The sixth anniversary of Iraq was on Friday and you didn't even mention it. What's going on?

Then there's the other international coverage. Um...where is it? For a while there you were going full bore with the Burma story, doing a great job and then...nothing. Same thing with the recent fighting between Hamas and Israel. You went, they made things difficult, and then you just...gave up? You're good with being all over it when a story breaks into the news cycle in a big way, but you're not so hot with the follow up. I get that you only have an hour and there are a zillion stories you could cover. But that's the whole point. The show I used to know and love doesn't seem to be choosing anymore--you're letting the news cycle do it for you, which destroys the individuality that attracted so many of us initial viewers.

Now, to be fair, I was very pleased with your recent interviews with Ben Affleck and George Clooney on the subjects of the DRC and Darfur, respectively. I'm probably one of the first people to eye-roll over celebrities, but you know what? These guys know their stuff and it was a perfect opportunity to talk about the two regions. If you have to use a celebrity to shine light on the darkness, then so be it. Do. This. More. Often. I am not suggesting trotting out every celebrity to talk about their cause (please don't), but if a columnist or reporter writes something about the conflicts, hey, have them on to talk about it if possible.

There are lots of outside-the-box opportunities to cover these kind of stories. I don't understand why it seems like the show has to physically be in the location of the story, for that story to get a significant amount of coverage. Does Anderson Cooper have some sort of reporting powers that only work outside of the studio? Don't get me wrong, I love it when the show goes out into the field. Anderson's at his best as a journalist and as an energized and passionate anchor when he's in the field. And of course, I'm totally on board with any opportunity for a possible tight t-shirt sighting. Ahem. I just wish it didn't seem like the only time we get any good, say, New Orleans coverage, is when you guys are there.

For example, this past Tuesday night, Sean Callebs had an excellently done--yet infuriating--piece on Katrina cottages in the Big Easy and I couldn't help but wonder why we hadn't heard a lot about the story before. Will we get a follow up, or do we have to wait until the next time you decide to go to the city? Loyal viewers know what you care about, 360. That's why we're loyal viewers--we care about it too. Anderson, dude, it's your show. You worked your butt off to achieve your position. Do the news you care about. Because you know what? When the show isn't into the story, it shows.

I know, I know. Ratings, blah, blah, blah. I'm not going to pretend to know the data you see, or to understand all of the obstacles and limitations you have to work with. I'm just one of those bloggers on the interwebs. I'm not typing from my parent's basement, but I am, in fact, wearing my pajamas. I have no professional qualifications to give you advice. But I've been watching the show longer than probably some of the staffers have worked there, and I can tell you that you've lost your way. Maybe you don't want to be that show anymore and I should just move on. I don't believe that though. The media world spins fast. Sometimes you have to step back.

This post became annoyingly long. I hate to break it to you 360, but I have much more to blog, specifically regarding your in studio coverage (yes, the panels!). So, this is the part where I say, "to be continued."


Anonymous Duffy said...

Yes, yes, and YES to everything you just said, Eliza. Brilliant, funny, and spot-on, as always. I hope someone at 360 who can make a difference is listening.

6:22 AM  

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sometimes I feel like I don't recognize 360 at all now.
They need to get their act together,soon.
Lose the panels, and the celebrity bull**it,and give us back honest to goodness news again,like we used to get.Is that so hard to figure out?What actually goes on in those meetings everyday about the evening's show,don't they discuss or even see the problems,or just carry on as if nothing is wrong?
They are stuck in a timewarp or something,thinking that the election is not over yet,or are they just getting a head start on 2012 by hanging onto those panels?Enough of them,already,put them on hold for awhile,we are sick of them.
I am just a common ol' viewer here,but something is seriously wrong,and is anyone doing anything about it.Seems not.What are they waiting for?
I just want the old 360 back,the one I started watching a long time ago(I actually first watched Anderson in his ABC days),or at least a recognizable version of how good it used to be.It could be again,if they would just get with it.Surely someone can figure this out,it's not rocket science.Wake up,folks.

9:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am anon 9:04.
Sorry I sound so frustrated and pissed off in that post,but I really just wonder what the hell is going on lately,is all.Plus,I just wonder how long more I can stick with this show unless something changes,like, yesterday.I know the econony is important,but there are other things happening,too.I hate what is happening to the show,even the entire network.It is not what it used to be,that is for sure,and I wonder,when will someone do something to fix all these problems,are they even trying?
I had been meaning to ask if anyone knew why Erica has been out for so long,hasn't she been off for almost two weeks now?Also,was any reason giving for cancelling the Miami part of the Road To Rescue?I had thought they might have had some stories ready to go from other correspondents,or perhaps go back at some point?
I wish CNN had at least left YOUR WORLD TODAY on its lineup.At least that was international news.I do not get CNNI,unfortunately.

9:50 AM  
Anonymous Silver Fox Fan said...

Well, he doesn't run CNN, he works for them. And in all things television, every show goes thorough it's highs and lows. Perhaps there is just SO much happening, being spread to thin is apt to take it's toll. While this notable and well intended criticism of AC360 is valid in some respects, this is also the time to stick with the show and not let it get sucked into oblivion. Criticizing is healthy, but, you to could be held to your own criticism and perhaps you have been holding him in your own Bubble. Don't forget, Anderson is also a person, who has a life and shouldn't be expected to live just for the show. Maybe it's just some burn out and perhaps CNN has some string pulling right now regarding the latitude in which we all Anderson loves to roam. Patience friend, patience.

10:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh Eliza, this is such a great post. You said exactly what I have been feeling about the show.

I hope someone at 360 passes this on to Anderson to read. I think he would appreciate how his viewers feel about how downhill his show has gone.

Thanks for doing this post.

10:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Time for Andy to move to the next thing. This thing has dried up, he needs a new vision, a new purpose, new life breathed into him and into whatever he will do next.
Plus, let the guy breathe a little. It must be very draining to always cover serious and depressing issues, no matter how pressing they can be. yes we all need anderson to be a superhero, only he isn't one. he's human. and let him enjoy himself a little. the more "shallow" stuff they cover now is actually yes more shallow but it is FUNNY and makes people laugh. I am sure he needs that lighter side in his life until he moves on to the next thing. AND I dont think Anderson has much of a life outside of work. he said himself that most of his life is spent at work, and he travels all the time for work. so unless he takes a long break from CNN and focuses on starting a family I'd say that CNN is his life.

11:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

here's anderson's answer to your letter -the youtube clip- (seriously). and I agree with him. they show what ppl wanna watch. its ppls fault if the media shows crap. ppl like crap. and the ones that dont dont make their voices heard enough. its ppl.

12:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will never for the life of me,figure out why HLN is doing so well,especially with Drama Queen Nancy Grace!She has to be the rudest,most aggravating host ever.I have long since given up on that program.She interrupts her guests and treats them like crap,not to mention that she constantly acts so over-the-top.Why is this constantly so high in the ratings?I do not get it.
I just wonder how much longer it will take to fix CNN,and its many problems.Do the higher ups even acknowledge there are any?It seems like they do not.
I know they have that feedback link,I highly doubt it is any good of even sending anything through there,it will get lost into auotmated oblivion,never to be read by anyone,producers,interns,nobody.
Do they still think we want to see those panels who seem to be on 24/7?If so,no wonder there is trouble.They are out of touch with their viewers,and if feedback is sent as to what we want to see,they are probably in denial,and continue to shove that bunch in our faces.
Just a thought,but a litte news would not hurt-you know,from the rest of the world out there?

3:26 PM  
Blogger eliza said...

@Duffy: Thanks!

To anyone wondering, the comment I deleted was simply spam.

@Anonymous 9:04/9:50: I don't think they should lose the panels completely (not my Gerg!), but they do need to be overhauled and significantly cut back. I'll talk more about that in my next post.

What celebrity crap? They haven't done much of that lately, I don't think. As I said, I thought Affleck and Clooney were a good idea. Are you talking about Natasha Richardson? Yeah, they went a tad too far with the coverage, but she was Anderson's friend and this is the part where it's his show and he should get to sometimes do what he cares about. I'm certainly not going to knock caring about a friend.

The economy is very important and I would never want them to stop covering it significantly, except, well, how they're covering it is way less than desired and actually gets into being "part of the problem." I'll go into that more next post.

I don't know where Erica is. I know how people like to speculate about her. Please let's keep things on topic here. (Sorry, not trying to be rude--just preempting.)

I don't know why they canceled Miami. They're obviously not going to tell us.

@Silver Fox Fan: No, he doesn't run CNN, I never claimed he did. Also, this was an open letter to his show, which is the product of the work of many, many, people. Yes, I addressed him directly once, but this really isn't about one person.

I don't know what you mean by "own bubble." If you have some specific criticism regarding the post, I'm all ears. Everyone can afford to be kept honest. ;)

@anonymous 10:51 AM: Thanks!

@anonymous 11:14 AM: I share your desire for Anderson's happiness and well being, but again, this really isn't about just him. This is about the whole show. Also, Anderson has made it clear that he wants his job to be about the news and not about him. I'd feel like I was belittling if I looked at things from your angle (though I know you don't mean it that way). He's a big boy, you know?

Yes, he's human. They're all human. And I completely understand a bad day or a screw up here and there. Heck, I've documented them on this blog and gone on to point out that sometimes a mistake is just a mistake and not a part of some ideological agenda (which is what people usually accuse). But I'm not talking about random bad days--the show has a systemic problem.

@anonymous 12:27 PM: Anderson went back in time to answer my question? I'm flattered! Heh. Look, I've heard this argument before, but actually, that's mostly not want I'm talking about here. The questioner brought up opinion shows and Anderson goes slightly straw man by bringing up crime shows and missing white girls (my apologies if the questioner mentioned that too and it was cut off).

I'm not really arguing in this post that they're doing too much crap. Yeah, they go sensational way more than I'd like, but hey, I fully understand there are ratings they have to get. Lately, I think they've struck a very good balance.

Couple other broader issues: as far as people not watching the important kind of stories, yeah, I agree with that. But then again, I think there's a whole audience out there that would watch those stories, but they don't watch cable due to its tendency to completely suck.

You can't suddenly start doing more international news (for example) and then look at the ratings after only one night. CNN can run their promos to their heart's content, but if you don't have the network on in the first place, you won't know what they're doing.

My question would be how long CNN would be willing to allow a show to get bad ratings before they freaked out. Because building an audience takes time. People can't watch you if they don't know you're out there doing good work. Heck, the only reason I gave 360 any notice was that I was flipping back and forth between all the news shows one day and saw him in Niger.

Also, as for Anderson's point about people being able to seek out the news they want, that's true. But the majority of Americans aren't like him, and they're not like me--they're not news junkies. They're just trying to get through their day and aren't even aware they may not be being properly informed. I think the news has a responsibility to these people.

3:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Eliza:

with regard to the celebrity crap I mentioned,I did not mean Natasha Richardson. I thought Anderson's tribute to her was very nice and heartfelt,and he had every right to have said something about her death.
I meant this whole endless stupid Octumom thing, along Oprah/Rihanna/Chris Brown,and yet again,Anna Nicole that was on recently.Must there be panels on to discuss these people?Come on!
Just when we think it is gone for awhile,someone turns up.

I for one,would not want the Gerg to go,either.Sometimes I think he is the only reasonable one of the bunch.

As for Erica not being around,I was simply asking if anyone had announced this week on the show where she was,THAT WAS ALL I MEANT.

I am not speculating anything about her,or where she might be,or what she is doing,or whatever.

I do not care where she is,nor do I miss her,by no means.Subject closed,gladly.

anon 9 04/9 50.

4:48 PM  
Anonymous Silver Fox Fan said...

In reply:
You are holding him to your interpretation of what you would like and seek from his show, hence, "Your own Bubble". You have an ideal set about how the show is run and it's content, based on the past. I am not saying literally or verbatim that you are holding him hostage by your vision of what should and shouldn't be done but you are, accordingly, creating a personalized out line of your specific qualm in an open format, thus, welcoming feed back from CNN and us, the public at large. Your post is well written and well thought out but it is essentially about you and, I can read, some viewers who have a different measure of the mainstream news media. I am certainly not going line by line, I took this all from the over all post. I love the blogasphere at large, that includes yours. All I am responding to is Anderson Cooper has to answer to a lot of people and the changes you are noticing could very well be a response to other folks like yourself who have also voiced/emailed/blogged their concerns of the format. I wish you the best and hope you do get a response or a reply. Keep on keepin' on.

5:05 PM  
Blogger Arachnae said...

I'd like to know what's happened to the Gerg we know and love. He's gone from being an original voice of moderation to spokesman for the Hive Mind. If I cared what the Villagers thought, I'd just read David Brooks and Bill Kristol.

5:16 PM  
Blogger eliza said...

@anonymous 3:26: I agree about HLN, but there's an audience for that. It's infotainment. I imagine some viewers just never really think about the fact that hours and hours of coverage of one missing white girl is ridiculous when there's a genocide (and a million other important things) going on. But other people clearly WANT to watch the crime stuff. Nancy Grace is atrocious.

As far as the feedback, I hardly ever send any. Sometimes it feels like there's no point. They're reaching out more now. Whether they're actually listening or it's just a desperate ratings gimmick remains to be seen.

@anonymous 4:48 PM: Oh, Octomom! I must have blocked her out. Heh. I guess I wasn't really thinking about her as a celebrity. That coverage was ridiculous. And then for Anderson to make comments about other outlets paying for her after his own show had helped make her famous, yeah, that didn't sit right.

I must have blessedly missed the recent ANS panel. Missing 360 is very rare for me--looks like I picked a good day to do it. I was torn on the Chris Brown thing, though did think they covered it a little too much. One thing's for sure, their fascination with Oprah has long passed comical.

I hope you're not offended re: what I said about Erica. I was talking to everyone. Just wanted to stop the wave before it started.

@Silver Fox: I think you're sort of missing the point. Of course I'm speaking from my perspective and I make very clear that, hey, I'm just a blogger. I'm fully aware others disagree with me. This isn't really just about me being annoyed that the show is changing.

This is about the fact that their ratings are tanking. Loyal viewers have left them. Maybe not in amounts to make any real difference, but it's something to point out. I'm simply noting that they've lost their identity and that just might be part of their ratings problems. Obviously if their numbers were rocking, this post would be stupid.

5:33 PM  
Blogger eliza said...

@Silver Fox: Oh, forgot to add that I'm really not expecting a response from the 360 kids. One would be greatly welcomed of course, whether in the comments or by email (confidentiality ensured). However, I'm guessing any action from them is going to involve simple lurking, all the while making frustrated faces about how that dang blogger just doesn't understand. Heh.

@Arachnae: Word. More on that in the next post--whenever I get the time. Sigh.

5:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know what to say. In the hope that the 360 staff will be reading this blog--CNN: please breathe some new life into the show. 360 used to be so much fun to watch. It was hype and unique. It presented news in the most engaging and interesting way. Now, the show is no different from any other boring shows (like you said). I have not really watched the show for weeks. It basically reruns most of the stories that were on the Campbell Brown Show, and sometimes, they even had the same SHOTS of the day.

What I really miss about 360 is the amazing field trips that AC constantly went on in the past. That was when we saw his most amazing work. I miss seeing the excitement in AC's eyes when he tells stories. I miss his field reporting. I miss him, as a journalist.

I hope that CNN would take the comments on your blog seriously. I think you basically covered what all the loyal watchers have been wanting to say for a long time. Thank you. The thing is I still believe strongly in AC. He is still an amazing journalist. It is too bad that CNN is wasting his talent. To reduce him to a boring anchor is the greatest mistake CNN has ever made.

Thanks, Eliza!--Patty

5:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Eliza for stating about 360 what many of us feel. Watching 360 and CNN in general these days has become a very frustrating experience. Until CNN realizes that morphing into Fox-lite is not going to turn their fortunes around, we'll be subjected to 360 and other programs on the network indulging in daily "what did President Obama do wrong NOW?" reports. CNN's desperate attempts to appeal to right wingers is ill-timed and out of character--whenever they've done polls of their audience regarding certain issues the first thing they have to mention is how their viewers tend to skew liberal--those viewers have probably defected to MSNBC where they know they will get honest reporting about this administration and not reporters doling out right wing talking points and propaganda. Anderson is always talking about how 360 is dedicated to giving their viewers facts, but what they seem to be more dedicated to lately are insinuations and nit-picking and parsing everything that the President says to the point of absurdity. And there are too many panels! Perhaps if they eliminated a panel or two they could fit in some actual on the scene reports from Afghanistan/Iraq/Darfur. The Road to Recovery series was a disappointment as well, they need much more time to really do a substantive job on something like that. 360 and CNN needs a major overhaul and return to their more liberal roots stat or else they will continue to lose to MSNBC.

6:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree on all points, Eliza.
I haven't been watching 360 as long as you have, but the change is obvious. And saddening.
I can only add that one of my biggest frustrations with the show is when AC discusses topics, an expert is not present. He doesn't question people directly anymore, he hands it off to spinsters to "discuss." It's like a dose of "Crossfire"!

I hope 360 can recover.

6:09 PM  

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